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I am pushed along with the crowd of people.  Church is over!  We are outside.  I blink my eyes in the bright sunshine.  What is all the noise about? Oh, I see!  Look at all the balloons!  Red, white and blue.  Not regular old balloons.  They are floating on strings!  I have seen balloons floating in pictures, but I have never held one. The men are handing out balloons.  Will they give one to me?  Could I have one of those magical, floating balloons?!    Oh, I can really have one?!  He says to be a big girl and hold on tight.  He says not to let go.  I am a big girl.  I am almost four.  I will hold on tight.  I won’t let go!

Oh, there are so many!  Everyone is excited.  We stand in the bright sun, holding all the balloons.  I am holding on tight!  A man is talking loud.  He is saying numbers.  His voice is getting louder!  But now, what is happening?  Oh no!  People are losing their balloons.  Red, white and blue, all floating away!  Going far away toward the big, bright sun!  But, I am a big girl.  I won’t let go!  I am so happy that I did not lose my wonderful, floating balloon!

But, people are looking.  Do I have the only balloon left?  Mom and Dad are looking.  They are angry.  Their faces are red.  Why are they so mad?  I did what the man said!  They want me to lose my balloon?!  Oh, I don’t want to.  Please don’t make me lose it!  I start to cry.  They get madder.  They take my fingers and move them so I can’t hold the white string.  Oh!  Oh!  There goes my wonderful, floating balloon.  It is going up high, but I can’t look at it.  The sun is too bright.  I am hot.  I am crying.  They are angry.  I am not a big girl because I am crying about my balloon.  The man who said the numbers wants to take a picture.  All the people smash close together on the steps in front of church.  He says to smile. I cry.

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Now, in the hot car.  Boy, are they mad.  They say to stop crying.  We are going to a party.  I don’t want to go to a party.  I want my balloon.

The party.  It is hot.  Grandma and Grandpa are here.  I don’t know them.  I am afraid of them.  There are lots of big tall men.  I don’t like them, either.  They hold silver cans and little white sticks that make smoke.  They have dark, pinched faces.  I feel sad and afraid.  I stand by Dad’s leg by all the big tall men.

One big man looks at me and says my eyes are all red.  What’s wrong with me?  Dad starts to tell them about my balloon.  But, what?  Now Dad is not mad.  He is laughing.  He laughs to tell them how I wanted to keep the balloon.  Now all the big tall men laugh.  It is not nice laughing.  My eyes are hot and start to feel wet.  They laugh because I am crying.  Now Dad is not mad that I am crying.  He is happy!  He is happy because he is laughing.

I look for Mom.  She won’t look at me.  I am all alone with all the big tall men.  They laugh and laugh.  I try not to cry.  I am not a baby.  I am almost four.  I’m a big girl.

I did what the man said.  I held on tight!  Mom and Dad are mad that I held on tight.  They are mad that I cried.  But, they are happy, too.  Happy that I held on tight and happy that I cried.  I don’t understand.  I want to go home.  I hate floating balloons.

It is thirty years later.  A long time ago I learned that the big event was a balloon release to celebrate the bicentennial on July 4, 1976.  I know because I have seen the group picture from that day enough times.  I’m the little girl in the front row, crying.

Even though I am a responsible adult, I get anxious around helium balloons.  Especially if I see a child holding one.  “Hold on tight!” something inside me screams.  My stomach gets knotted up and I look away.  I hate floating balloons.

I have come to realize that it’s not only the helium ones that I hate, but all the other ones, too.  My parents sometimes gave me the ones called Promises.  I tried to hold on tight, but they usually managed to pry my fingers off. I could only watch helplessly as the Promises floated away.  Sometimes I had the ones called Hopes, but I couldn’t keep those, either.  And, while I tried hardest to hold on to the Dreams, somehow they always slipped through my fingers, too.  Where are they now?  Probably lying in ditch somewhere, next to an ancient, deflated bicentennial balloon.

Lately, God has been showing me how helium balloons and other things like that are keeping me in chains.  They are heavy, shame chains that I drag around with me.  I have heard of a place called Grace, where there are no chains, and where the balloons don’t fly away.  Oh, how I want to get there!

And, that is why I am the grown-up woman, sitting in her pastor’s office, crying about a lost balloon.

But, Pastor Bob asks me to pray.  To tell God what it felt like to be the little girl who couldn’t keep her balloon – the little girl who was shamed into the ground by big, laughing men who thought her tears were funny.  It is a different way to pray, but through my tears I tell God the story.  And then, Pastor Bob tells me to ask Jesus to show me where he was.  After a few moments, I choke out an anguished, “JESUS, WHERE WERE YOU??!”

Oh, those big tall men look scary when they laugh.  I want to run away.  I want to hide.  Oh no, now there is another big man!  I don’t know if he is tall because he is down by me.  He doesn’t have a silver can or a little white stick.  I wish they would stop laughing!!  The big man by me wants me to look at him.  He is so close to me!  I don’t want to see a pinched, laughing face that close.  I look at the dirt.  He puts his arm around me.  He feels strong.  Slowly, I look up to his face.  Oh!  He is not laughing!  He is not mad!  Oh.  His eyes are wet.  He is crying, too.  He squeezes my shoulders.  He says, “I understand.”  Oh, he does!  He does!  Now he looks at the big tall men.  His face is sad and angry.  But he looks back at me.  He holds tight to me.  He won’t let go!  I can’t hear the laughing anymore.  He is down here by me.  His eyes are wet.  He understands.  I am safe.

And now, it is several years later.  I like helium balloons!  I buy them for my kids.  They are an essential part of birthdays and parties around our house.  And, I did get to the place called Grace.  Along the way, Jesus healed many more deep, old wounds.  He has taken the shame-chains away.  And while I know that I am not perfectly free, I live a life that is lighter than I ever imagined possible.

And, I learned that all those Promises, Hopes and Dreams did not just end up in some dirty ditch.  They didn’t float away into nothingness.  Jesus caught them.  Every single one!  I know because he has given some of them back to me.  They are in my hands again, and you better believe that I won’t let go!  He is keeping the others for me, and because I know that he understands, I’m okay with that.  Every so often I get surprised by a long lost hope or dream suddenly becoming a reality.  Jesus has perfect timing!

The desires of my heart matter to him.  And so, I won’t be a bit surprised if he meets me in heaven with a big smile on his face, holding on tight to a wonderful, floating bicentennial balloon.

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Written by a woman of excellence, a wife and mom who has gone through the Genesis Process and found inner healing, hope, and freedom…                          (Pastor Bob Barnett, Real Life Ministries USA)

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